MJFChat: What’s New in the Microsoft Teams Voice Space

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our latest MJFChat is focused what’s going on in the voice part of the Microsoft Teams space. My special guest for this chat is Tom Arbuthnot, Founder and Principal of Empowering.Cloud. Tom is a Microsoft MVP, Certified Master and expert in the universal communications market.

In this chat, Tom talks about the new Microsoft Operator Connect Mobile offering, what’s happening with call centers and Teams, Teams Connect (shared channels) and lots more.
If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, just Tweet to me or drop me a line. (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there…


Mary Jo Foley (00:00):
Hi, you’re listening to petri.com’s MJF chat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your petri.com Community Magnate. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you our readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s chat is all about the latest developments on the voice side of the Microsoft teams house. My special guest, who knows a lot about this space, is Tom Arbuthnot, founder and principle of empowering.cloud. Tom is a unified communications specialist, a Microsoft MVP, and a Microsoft-certified master. Hello Tom, thank you for coming on MJF Chat again.

Tom Arbuthnot (00:42):
No, thanks for having me, Mary Jo, it’s always a pleasure and we’re overdue a catch up, I think.

Mary Jo Foley (00:46):
Definitely! There has been so much voice-related Teams news in the past few months, and I have a feeling there’s gonna be a lot more as this year, progresses. So it’s very timely that we’re doing this. I feel like Microsoft’s been really focused on the calling side of Teams, at least in part to the growing importance of hybrid and remote work over the last couple years. If you were to list the top three voice-related announcements or improvements in Teams over the last year, I’m curious what you put in your list and why.

Tom Arbuthnot (01:20):
Yeah, so first off you’re right, Microsoft has been heavily focused on this area. So obviously Teams flew through and in post pandemic and a lot of that use is chat and meetings. So there’s still a massive opportunity for Microsoft to add people to the phone system. And that’s why there is such a big push. They’ve got this massive market to go after for voice now, narrowing it down to three over the last year is quite hard. I think that the first one would be Microsoft recently announced, maybe they’ve said it in various ways, a few times that over 90% of the Fortune 500 are using teams phone. And this is a little bit marketing because they say Teams phone, but they mean both VoIP. So using it peer to peer, organizations, Federations and as a proper phone with a phone number, but that gives you some idea of how pervasive teams is in enterprise and how much that’s an opportunity for them to get in those enterprises and flip them from usually traditional phone systems, things like Cisco or a via over to Teams as a phone system.

Tom Arbuthnot (02:26):
So, number two, and this is very recent, Microsoft has finally kind of finished the API and certification story for what they call extend contact centers. So these are contact centers that are using the Microsoft Teams, native APIs. So this is interesting because previously we’ve had lots of certified contact centers that can integrate with teams, but essentially they integrated by pushing a phone call to Teams. So the contact center ran, it rang Teams and the contact center agent answered. This is slightly different. This is using Teams APIs to build contact center, more natively into teams. So it’s early days for this, but there’ll be more and more contact centers that are getting more tightly integrated with Teams. And that just makes Teams more pervasive for voice as well.

Mary Jo Foley (03:11):
Let me ask you something about that, because I know there’s been a lot happening on the dynamic side of the house with contact centers. Is there, do you know, is there much overlap between what they’re doing with the Teams and the contact centers and dynamics and contact centers?

Tom Arbuthnot (03:26):
Yeah, it’s interesting. So Microsoft has always been an ecosystem-led company. So they, they let partners build on top of their APIs, but as you say, they put their hat in as a first party contact center with dynamics, voice channel. And that is them actually using the Team’s underlying architecture which is Azure communication services, is it’s kind of marketing name from the IC3 team, okay. To provide phone calls into a contact center. It’s limited at the moment in terms of native calling to the U.S., Denmark and UK in preview, but you can bring your own phone numbers to it as well. So, you’ll have two options. You’ll be able to go native with Microsoft if you’re already a dynamic shop and you are using dynamics for everything that might make sense, or you can go down the partner route and have a partner-certified contact center, but you can also bring those per those certified companies into dynamics as well. So it’s gonna be a mix and match depending on what the customer needs.

Mary Jo Foley (04:25):
Okay, great.

Tom Arbuthnot (04:27):
And then number three, which has kind of gone under the radar, is Microsoft added PSTN conferencing that’s phone numbers to dial into meetings into nearly all the office 365 SKUs this month actually March, 2022. And that, in one swoop, adds a bunch of value for customers because that’s a license that you previously had to pay for if you weren’t in E5. But it also means that customers are less likely to shop around for other conferencing systems because one of the compelling events is, oh, I don’t have a phone number. I think I need to go and buy something, I’ll go and look around. So I think Microsoft’s been really smart there, they’ve added a lot of value in included in the license, but they’ve also kind of shut down one of the reasons to go shop around cuz it’s, it’s all just in the box.

Mary Jo Foley (05:14):
Hmm. Interesting. I use that feature a lot because sometimes you just don’t need to be connected by video, right. You’re just like, let me just call in, right?

Tom Arbuthnot (05:21):
Yeah, yeah. A hundred percent. And the usage on that is way down. As people are at desks, more in data on mobile is much better, but you still need the old phone numbers to dial in. And I’ve seen organizations go and buy a third party conferencing product just cause they didn’t understand they could add a phone number to Teams. So it just makes it easier for users that it’s all in the box and ready to go.

Mary Jo Foley (05:44):
Got it. OK. Now let’s talk about some of the hot buttons happening right now and the big one I am dying to hear you describe and explain is this thing Microsoft just announced called Operator Connect Mobile for Teams. So I I’ve read their descriptions about this in their blog posts and looked at some of the literature, but I’m still confused about what exactly this is. You know, how does it different from call forwarding and why should IT Pros care about this?

Tom Arbuthnot (06:14):
Yeah, this has been a really, really big announcement. It’s been massively hot topic on my blog and on LinkedIn. And yeah, it is a confusing one. So, let’s explain it. So, first off operator connect is the certification program where Microsoft works with what they call operators or PSTN carriers, like you know, AT&Ts, your BTs and various others to provide phone numbers for users. So the operator appears to Microsoft on the back end, over on Azure, you go in, you pay whoever it is your carrier for those phone numbers, you attach ’em to Teams users, and off you go. So that make sense so far?

Mary Jo Foley (06:51):

Tom Arbuthnot (06:52):
Good, good. So, the operator click mobile is an extension of that certification program and it allows the operator to present a single number for both your mobile or your cell phone and your Teams phone. So this is not forwarding or any kind of VoIP. This is, they literally give you a SIM card or what’s called an ESIM, a virtual SIM card, that goes into your phone either physically or virtually. And it is literally your mobile phone number. So your normal dialer on your Windows or your Android, not Windows anymore, I guess your Android or your iOS. So I’m harking back on it. There works normally inbound now calls works just like a cell call, but that same number will also ring in Teams. So think of it as it kind of the the carrier is forking it in their cloud. So you are not setting up a forward or a SIM ring or anything. But the benefit there is your voicemail is Teams. Your call history is in Teams. You can easily hand off between mobile and Teams. So it’s not two numbers that you are forwarding and masking. It’s literally one number that works on both devices.

Mary Jo Foley (08:03):
And can you keep your existing number and make that the number, like if you already have a cell number?

Tom Arbuthnot (08:09):
Yeah, it’s totally gonna depend on the operator. And that’s an important one to understand is because this is operator level, you have to be with an operator that’s on the program. And so it’s fine as API integr teams. Okay. In a lot of cases you will be able to keep it because if it’s with an operator that already has that service or you can call numbers regionally, there might be some differences depending on in some countries, for example, you have specific mobile number formats or specific landline formats. But, by and large, yeah, you should be able to keep your number and have it turn up on both.

Mary Jo Foley (08:42):
Hmm. Very cool. Yeah. I saw my telco company, Verizon, is already signed up to be partners on this, like, so is Rogers, Swisscom. There are a lot of other carriers that are already on board. So Microsoft says this, a preview for this is coming in Q2. So very soon, general availability later this year. I’m kind of trying to figure out, do their competitors have something like this already, or is this a complete game changer in your opinion?

Tom Arbuthnot (09:13):
Yeah, obviously the marketing went out as we’re the first people to do this and we’re changing the world. Right. Right. It has, it has existed for quite a long time. It’s called fixed mobile convergence, but it’s never really taken off. It’s always been a niche play from certain operators. So, it’s never been mass market. But it has existed before. WebEx released a similar functionality ages ago or so six months ago. But the big difference here is Microsoft working with the operators in a very partner focused way. And the operators have an opportunity to sweep up both the VoIP lines, if you like the sip trunks and the mobile contract. So because of that reason, it’s gonna be a really compelling event for the operators to push this. So I think it’ll gain much more traction. And the other piece of the puzzle is Microsoft is really after first line or frontline workers. And that’s been a bit of a gap for, you know, this kind of service, but actually they’re, they tend to be sell first. So if you can give them a really good sell experience that on the occasion, they go to their tablet or their desk, it just works seamlessly there as well. That’s a really nice experience for them to not have to think about forwarding or SIM rings or anything like that. Just works both places.

Mary Jo Foley (10:30):
Hmm. Very cool. Okay. That’s great. Thanks for helping me understand that. That was a little confusing to me. Okay. Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about a couple other things that have happening lately. Microsoft, I saw just announced a trade-in program for what they call the most common unified communications devices. So things like video conferencing, devices, desktop, IP phones, web cameras, and more, I’m curious if you think customers will be interested in this and why or why not?

Tom Arbuthnot (10:58):
Yeah, I think potentially well there’s certainly a lot of customers are changing their kits at the moment. So because of the hybrid working that they’re moving more towards you know, video enabling more rooms and new types of devices, obviously the Teams devices that the systems doubled year on year, last year. So they’re doing really well. So it’s nice for customers that they’re not gonna make tons of money out of it necessarily. It’s actually a partnership relationship with a company called Network Value. So they’re the ones behind it. Microsoft are just sort of fronting it if you like. The other thing that’s quite nice is it can be quite tricky to legally get rid of some of this kit. So in terms of wiping it and disposing of it responsibly and all that kind of stuff. So sometimes trading is useful, not cause it’s necessarily gonna get a lot of money back, but just cuz you know, the kit’s been disposed of in a or reuse or whatever it is in a responsible way.

Mary Jo Foley (11:55):
Got it. Okay. Microsoft also announced a standalone version of Teams, which I believe is called Teams Essentials aimed at the small and midsize business market last year, late last year. I am curious if this makes sense for SMBs and if people are kind of kicking the tires on it or if they just say, you know what, it doesn’t make sense to do teams unless you have an office 365 or a Microsoft 365 subscription. I wonder if you had heard anything directly from any customers about that?

Tom Arbuthnot (12:29):
Yeah. This one kind of caught me by surprise. I’m interested like you as well. Like Microsoft have been, you know, bundling up things for so long into skews of here’s everything. I was surprised they, they took teams out and made a Teams-only SKU for kind of small business. And the motivation there is there’s lots of small businesses that are, you know,, they often use Google cause that’s kind go-to for a consumer world and they might not be ready to go to the full Office 365, but they want collaboration and conferencing. And my assumption is Microsoft’s got to the point where that that customer is happy with Google mail. They’re happy with their website. They know what’s going on. They don’t have time to think through changing their entire business, but they just wanna buy online meetings.

Tom Arbuthnot (13:16):
So therefore they’re more likely to go to a single-use kind of competitor like a WebEx or a Zoom cause they can just buy the one solution they need. So, I think Microsoft built this purely for that opportunity to say look for a very, very aggressive price, you can buy just meetings and collaboration from us. Don’t worry. You don’t have to change your email. You don’t have to change your, you have to use all this other stuff. Just buy that thing with the hope that it will then convert people, you know, $1 more to jump up to business basic and a few dollars more to jump up to proper business Office 365. So I don’t think it’s a, you know, and an aggressive money-making business for Microsoft Teams Essentials. It’s more like an on ramp to get people that weren’t ready to take in the full 365 story just yet, but they want to capture them to meetings and potentially calling and collaboration.

Mary Jo Foley (14:08):
And the Zoom compete angle makes total sense. I know they’re, they’ve definitely got their eye on Zoom and making sure they compete with them across the spectrum. So yeah.

Tom Arbuthnot (14:16):
Yeah. A hundred percent. That’s definitely definitely the competitors to watch.

Mary Jo Foley (14:20):
Yep. Okay. I know this is a very much a weighted feature that is coming soon. It should be in preview this month. Teams Connect which some people call Shared Channels. Originally, this was supposed to be out last year, I think. But now the feature should be a rolling out in public preview this month. Could you describe a bit about what Teams Connect lets you do and whether you think this will enhance the popularity of Teams with customers?

Tom Arbuthnot (14:51):
Yeah, so yeah, the feature with two names: Teams/Shared Channels, which is always fun. So most techies refer to it as Shared Channels cause that’s kind of the feature really. What it is, today, if I inside my organization, want to collaborate with someone external, so a customer or a partner you know, external marketing consultants, something like that, I can invite them into Teams into my team and they can access it, but the way they have to access it is they have to switch tenant switch. So they click a button in Teams and they literally switch into my tenant effectively, join my team and interact with me. And that does technically work, but it’s full of friction because now I’m in your tenant. I’m not in my tenant. So I can’t see my own chat and my own Teams.

Tom Arbuthnot (15:40):
So, while people use it, I don’t think the numbers are on fire because it’s full of friction. You know, I use it a lot because I work with lots of customers, but I have multiple browser windows open for each of those customers. I, we have lots of instances. So it’s not the best solution in terms of customers. What shared channels adds is the ability for me to add that same person to a shared channel and they can see the channel natively in their Teams, in their tenants. They don’t have to switch. So it’s a really improved experience for them. And it’s an improved experie it for me because it means I can have say six or seven different customer channels in my single Team’s experience. They’re all there. They’re all ready to go. And I don’t have to switch tenants to jump in and out of them. So I’m much, much more likely to engage in those channels because they’re right in front of me.

Mary Jo Foley (16:28):
Yep. I can’t wait for this. I’m the perfect example of a customer who is having this very issue. I have when I’m in one Team’s channel with one of my freelance clients, I can’t see the other one. And I’m just like, oh, do I wanna open multiple windows? I don’t know. And yeah, this, I can’t wait for this one. I have to say.

Tom Arbuthnot (16:45):
Yeah. It’s a really big one. And it disproportionately affects, you know, people like you and I who work with lots of different organizations, so consultants get hit hard by this and even freelancers get hit hard by this. But, but in terms of adoption of Teams, it’ll be a big one cuz you get more of a network effect because people start to use that. So they’re like, well, we work on Teams, if you want to engage with us, you have to use Teams. So you end up with this a bit like Federation was years and years ago with OCS and Skype for business. I did entire projects because competitors were finding out that their customers were finding out that their competitors were using Federation to talk to their customers and they had a quicker experience, more engagement. So, well we can’t not have that. So, so Federation drove deals and I think it’ll be the same with this. It’ll be well, if all the enterprises are using Teams and we want to stay engaged with them, we need to have Teams so we can engage with them on shared channels.

Mary Jo Foley (17:41):
Yep. I’m very excited about that one. Okay. Now we’ve got a reader/listener question from Dustin Baty. It’s very specific question he asked on Twitter, if you know anything about when Microsoft plans to add an option for always recording from a call queue.

Tom Arbuthnot (18:00):
Yeah. This, this was very, very low level there. Dustin jumping right in. But yeah, we we’ll go through it. So, it’s interesting. So Microsoft provides what they call convenience recording in Teams. So it means that you can elect to record a call for your convenience to listen back. When you talk about always recording a call, that’s more compliance recording. So a very common in a context center scenario, which I imagine is where this question’s coming from is the call queues feature is kind of a contact center, {inaudible} feature. I don’t see Microsoft crossing the line into offering compliance recording because it’s a whole different feature set and then it impacts their partners. So the answer probably is Microsoft won’t offer that, but there are eight or nine certified partners who can offer that at various price points, cloud built on your cloud. So not impossible that Microsoft have the technology, but if they say they’re a compliance platform, then they have to start thinking about storage and records and everything else. So I think not soon as the answer for Dustin. I would look to one of the compliance vendors. If you go to the Microsoft doc, cause they’re all listed there, they will be able to record those, those call queue sessions.

Mary Jo Foley (19:14):
Okay. Great information. Any other new voice features on the docket for Teams that you think are worth a mention?

Tom Arbuthnot (19:22):
Yeah. So a few interesting ones. So DECT integration is coming, which is another techy techy term, but it’s wireless handsets over a kind of a different technology to wifi. So this technology is much more pervasive in things like retail or often in construction. And you can get a very ruggedized handset, so a niche use case, but another one where Microsoft is just closing a gap. And again, I was quite surprised how many people are still excited about that technology. So it’s just closing a gap there. Obviously we’ve got the whole Avatars and Metaverse looking a bit further out, which is interesting. I’m not sure I’m completely sold on those concepts yet, but

Mary Jo Foley (20:06):
I mean, you’re same boat on that one. The Teams for mesh stuff that they talked about last year at Ignite. Yeah, I get the idea, right. Which is, people are kind of sick of being on video with their faces all the time. So maybe they could be represented as an avatar instead, and that it would kind of facilitate, or at least simulate what it’s like to collaborate in a shared space. I don’t know though it looks hokey to me still.

Tom Arbuthnot (20:35):
Yeah. It’s interesting. Isn’t it? But it’s, I’m quite cynical about it too. But then I think back, and I couldn’t imagine a time where I’d be using gifs, emoticons and stuff.

Mary Jo Foley (20:46):
Yeah, true.

Tom Arbuthnot (20:47):
In business chat, so things change, but we’ll see. And then for those that are really into the tech, the Azure Communication Services. So that is essentially the platform that Teams runs on. Microsoft offering that is what’s called a CPA. So a communications platform as a service. So you can build your third party applications and integrate video chats, SMS, those kind of things. And that’s a real focus area for Microsoft and Microsoft are adding more capability, more options in there. So if you’re, you’re into kind of voice tech and where it’s all going, it’s worth keeping an eye on what the Azure Communication Services team are doing because not only are they the platform for Teams, but they’re becoming a platform in their own right, for other applications.

Mary Jo Foley (21:32):
Hmm. Yeah. I remember when Microsoft announced that and everyone’s like, oh, they’re going after to Twilio. Right. And I think what makes it more interesting is that this is what Microsoft uses itself and now it’s making it available to other companies. So it kind of gives it a level of backing that you might find compelling if you’re a partner or customer.

Tom Arbuthnot (21:52):
Yeah. And, and the secret source is they’ve got tight integration to Teams. Right? Obviously. But, other CPAs platforms don’t, so you can build scenarios where the business professional is on Teams like the doctor or the whatever it may be, and the customer is in a web browser or an iPhone or an Android app, so that they have this ability to have this really deep integration Teams, which opens up some interesting beats the opportunities.

Mary Jo Foley (22:18):
Great. All right, Tom. Well, thank you so much for the conversation and the information. Always a pleasure. For those interested in this topic, also make sure to check out Tom’s blog at tomtalks.blog, where he covers all the latest news and information on Teams, especially the voice announcements.

Tom Arbuthnot (22:38):
Thanks, Mary. It’s a real pleasure. And yeah, we’ll have to catch up again in a little while and go through the latest announcements.

Mary Jo Foley (22:44):
Yes, for sure. And then for everyone else, who’s listening to this right now, or reading a transcript of this chat, I’ll be posting soon who my next guest is going to be. Once you see that if you want, you can submit questions directly on Twitter using the #MJFChat and I will add them to my list. And in the meantime, if you know of anyone else or even yourself who might make a good guest for one of these chats, please do not hesitate to drop me a note. Thank you very much.